Normal U-High claims Class 2A title in 8 thrilling innings over Alleman
June 3, 2012
By Sean Duncan
PEORIA, IL – What started as a classic pitchers’ duel, turned out to be a heavyweight slugfest, with Normal U-High and Rock Island Alleman each exchanging late-inning knockout blows.
The result was an unforgettable Class 2A championship game Saturday night, punctuated by Jordan Stralow’s two-run homer in the eighth inning to lift U-High to a thrilling 5-4 victory at O’Brien Field.
Stralow’s heroics gave U-High (29-10) the school’s second state championship and first since 1998. It also put the proper ending to a game that had it all: excellent pitching, highlight-reel defensive plays and, ultimately, clutch hitting.
“I don’t know who will remember that hit longer, Jordan or me,” said U-High coach Jim Collins, in his third year at the school. “He will, I guess, because he will live longer.”
Believe it or not, this game was tied at 1-1 heading into the seventh inning before both teams answered each other’s roundhouse blows. First, U-High looked like it had the game wrapped up in the top of the seventh when senior right fielder Jim Solberg smashed a two-run double to give U-High a 3-1 lead.
Alleman (29-13) was down to its final out, with a runner on first, chasing two runs against ace senior left-hander Jacob Hendren (9-1), who limited the Pioneers to only three hits up until the seventh inning. U-High’s fans were standing up, sensing the state championship was only a pitch or two away.
Then left fielder Blake Newberg, Alleman’s No. 8 hitter, connected for his first home run, a two-run blast over the left field wall to tie the game at 3-3. Newberg sprinted around the bases in about eight seconds while the Alleman fans went berserk.
“Blake is a good hitter, but I’ve never seen him hit a home run, not even in practice,” said Alleman coach Chris Lemon. “So when he hit it out, yeah, I thought we were going to win the ballgame.”
Alleman’s celebration, however, was short-lived.
Jacob Hendren led off the eighth with a single. The next batter stuck out, which brought the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Stralow to the plate. The senior left fielder took Alleman senior Matt Schissel’s offering deep to left-center field, his third homer of the season, to give U-High the lead for good.
“I had a pretty good idea it was gone,” said Stralow, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBI. “I can’t ask for anything better than this. This is the best feeling in the world.”
But hold the celebration just yet. Alleman junior shortstop Connor Whan led off the bottom of the eighth with a double, which prompted Collins to remove his ace, Hendren, from the game, opting to bring in junior Dylan Farney.
“I told the coaches before I did it, this may be the dumbest move I ever make,” said Collins. “We’ve lived and died with Jacob. We rode him hard all week. … I felt we needed to give them a change of pace.”
The first batter Farney faced, junior third baseman John Tracey, rapped a run-scoring single to make it 5-4 with no outs.
Here we go again.
Not this time. Farney rolled a 6-4-3 double play, then got a tapper back to the mound to put the finishing touches on this indelible championship game.
“We didn’t lose the game, Normal U-High won it,” said Lemon. “If I were a spectator and paid five bucks, I would’ve thought I got my money’s worth.”
Aside from Stralow’s home run, the Hendren brothers – fraternal twins who are both signed at Heartland Community College – anchored the victory. Jacob pitched seven innings, allowing six hits, two walks, four runs and struck out four. Jacob was U-High’s horse in the playoffs, as he either won or saved all five playoff games leading up to the state semifinals.
“For four years this is what we’ve dreamed about,” said Jacob Hendren. “I’m so happy I can’t even explain it.”
Then there was Jared Hendren, who made several highlight plays at shortstop and had two hits at the plate.
Lost in U-High’s thrilling victory was a stellar performance by Alleman senior right-hander Matt Schissel (8-5). Schissel settled down after the first inning, when U-High produced three hits and scored its first run on Stralow’s single. After that, it was smooth sailing for the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder. At one point, he retired 11 straight batters, and didn’t allow another hit until an infield single in the sixth inning. Schissel retired the side in order in the second, third and fourth innings, and he did so predominately on flyouts.
Alleman tied the game at 1-1 in the second when centerfielder Ryan O’Keeffe led off the inning with a single. After an out, catcher Sean Wetherell had a bunt single, followed by a walk to load the bases. O’Keeffe scored on a wild pitch, but Jacob Hendren wriggled out of the jam with a strikeout and a flyout.
The game stayed tied 1-1 until the seventh- and eighth-inning fireworks.
“There were so many great plays on both sides,” said Collins. “Both teams just kept fighting. This was just a great high school baseball game.”